Unwanted behavior isn’t unusual in dogs. Some research suggests anxiety-related issues may even have a genetic component. The Merck Veterinary Manual describes three types of cases, with varying degrees of intervention and treatment. Noise sensitivity is especially prevalent, whether it’s a problem with loud noises like fireworks or thunder.
Many people look toward natural solutions for their problems. Pet humanization has brought many products to the companion animal landscape. It’s not surprising that pet owners would seek these treatments for behavioral issues like anxiety. If you’re wondering if lavender will calm your dog, the answer is uncertain. The problem rests with its potential toxicity and how it’s used.
The genus to which lavender belongs contains dozens of varieties, most of which are Old World species, particularly in the Mediterranean region. It’s a common ingredient in foods and spices, such as the herbes de Provence. The FDA classifies lavender as “generally recognized as safe” or GRAS. However, that designation applies to food additives for humans.
You’ll find lavender sold as dried flowers for its pleasant scent, in spices, and as an essential oil. The latter is a highly concentrated and potent form. People may add it to a carrier oil for a skin treatment. Some may add it to the bath for a relaxing soak after a hard day’s work. You can apply it directly to your skin, unlike many other essential oils, which you must dilute.
The Use of Lavender
The history of lavender use goes back to the ancient Egyptians for incense and perfumes. Its fragrance is pleasing to many people, so it’s easy to understand its popularity. Folklore uses for depression, insomnia, and fatigue have existed for centuries. It remains a common ingredient in many personal care products. Research has confirmed some uses, including anxiety and possibly wound healing.
The critical caveat with this information is this evidence involves human use of lavender. Dogs only share 84% of our DNA. And, as they say, the devil is in the details, or at least the 16% difference. Remember that people can eat many things that canines can’t, such as chocolate, grapes, and onions. Therefore, we can’t conclude it’s safe for our pets just because we can use it.
The Canine Front
The typical uses for lavender are air freshener, aromatherapy, and wound treatment. This plant has a relatively strong scent for members of the Lamiaceae or mint family. Dogs have a keen sense of smell. Our concern involves how your pup might perceive this olfactory punch. It may indeed soothe your pet’s anxiety, or it may have the opposite effect.
Potential Toxicity of Lavender
A review of the scientific literature shows many studies and reviews citing a need for additional research when it comes to dogs. Toxicology data is well-documented for humans, rodents, and rabbits. However, the ingredients in lavender reveal a few red flags. One of the most worrying is a chemical called linalool. It’s for this reason that the ASPCA considers lavender toxic to dogs, cats, and horses.
Ingestion can cause loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting, although the latter isn’t typically seen in horses. The more an animal eats, the greater the health risks. These findings are especially unsettling, given the use of essential oils in so-called natural or minimum-risk flea and tick preventives. The evidence tells a different story about the safety of pets.
As any dog owner knows, if you put something on your pup’s paws, it’s going to lick it off after you apply it. Ingestion is inevitable. That makes proper use of any topical product imperative for your pet’s safety. Therefore, we strongly urge you to discuss the use of anything containing essential oils with your veterinarian before using it on your pup. That includes lavender in any form.
It’s also worth noting that science doesn’t support using all alternative therapies, even for people. Remember that something you can buy over the counter is not subject to premarket FDA approval. The same caution applies to pets. You’ll probably find it’s better to deal with the cause of behavioral issues than to merely treat the symptoms.
We all want the best for our pets. Sadly, it’s a common misconception that something that is all right for you to use means it’s okay for your animal companions. As you’ve seen, that isn’t the case. While using lavender as aromatherapy may calm your dog, we can’t wholeheartedly recommend it. Instead, check with your vet to prevent any adverse reactions.
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